Karen Garloch

Charlotte woman urges those with hearing loss to get tested

In 2013, Linda Strong was diagnosed with a benign tumor in her ear. It was shaped like an ice cream cone and just fit inside her auditory canal.

Doctors told her the tumor, called acoustic neuroma, had probably been there for years. It was why she had developed dizziness, hearing loss and ringing in her ears. She hadn’t realized those symptoms were related and could be so serious.

Because May 10-16 is Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week, Strong, 74, a former nurse at Carolinas Medical Center, wants others to know they should get a hearing test if they share the symptoms she ignored. Especially if hearing loss is one-sided, that could indicate acoustic neuroma, she said.

Strong’s diagnosis came after she got a hearing test and MRI scan in 2013. Six months later, another scan showed the tumor was growing. If it got too big, it could begin to press against her brain, making it more difficult to treat.

She had a decision to make – whether to wait and see how fast it grew, to have surgery or try radiation.

Acoustic neuroma can be very slow growing. Some patients have theirs for many years, and they never become a problem. “But you can’t just forget it,” Strong said. “You have to keep track of it.”

Strong didn’t want to wait for treatment, and she decided against surgery because of potentially serious side effects. She knows one woman who had “seven years of terrible headaches.” Others have developed vision problems or facial paralysis. “The hardest part of this whole process is deciding what to do,” she said.

Most of the doctors she consulted in Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles recommended stereotactic radiosurgery, partly because it involves a single procedure. “It zaps that one tiny spot,” Strong said. “It’s a one-shot deal.”

She had that procedure at CMC in October. A six-month followup scan in April showed her tumor is shrinking. She’ll have another scan next year. It will be a ongoing process, but “I am very relieved,” Strong said.

In the meantime, she’s also participating in two studies, through Yale University and the Mayo Clinic, which involve questionnaires and interviews intended to find out more about acoustic neuroma.

“Early diagnosis is key,” she said. “If I can help just one person in the Charlotte area look into their hearing loss and get diagnosed.... that would be a wonderful thing.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078

Looking for help?

Find North Carolina support groups at: Acoustic Neuroma Association; www.anausa.org